Lovestruck in Tuscany
acing heartbeat, heart palpitations, sweating and trembling. They could be the classic symptoms of being in love, but they also coincide with the ones caused by Stendhal syndrome or Florence syndrome. This happens when someone is subjected to an overdose of beauty. It happens in Tuscany, where kisses taste of wine and truffles. In the close to 23,000 square kilometres occupied by this region in Italy’s midwest there’s room for rolling fields, vineyards, charming (and very Instagrammable) villages, plus towns and cities just oozing with art.
Florence is the capital of Tuscany and one of the must-sees for every traveller. This city, the ancient seat of the Medicis, was the nerve centre of the Renaissance and it was precisely in its Santa Croce basilica that French writer Stendhal was gripped by the syndrome that would be named after him. On the Ponte Vecchio, thousands of couples have sealed their love by hanging a padlock on the railings and throwing the key into the Arno river. In Sienna it’s worth pausing a while to watch life go by in the Piazza del Campo, one of the prettiest in Italy. Pisa, Lucca and Pienza, where you have to try the local speciality, Pecorino cheese, are the other main cities in Tuscany where getting lost is part of the plan.
Film set landscapes
The whole of Tuscany is a film set. ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ was filmed in Cortona; ‘The English Patient’, in Pienza and Montepulciano, ‘Life Is Beautiful’ in Arezzo… And when the lead character in ‘Gladiator’ dreams of paradise, what the viewer sees is Tuscany's Val d’Orcia.
Despite having such famous cities, what’s really charming about Tuscany is its landscapes and little villages. The region is a patchwork quilt of different hues of green, ochre and yellow, dotted with vineyards, olive groves, cypresses and sunflowers. When you travel by car – or Vespino – the next destination isn’t the next village, it’s right here and now. Stopping to capture the grandeur of the landscape or making a detour to discover a winery or a new village is one of the constants on this trip.
The award for the most typical Tuscan village belongs to Val d’Orcia, which preserves its medieval architecture and is perched on top of a hill and is surrounded by defensive walls. Its streets, alleyways and cobbled passageways often open out onto surprisingly large squares or viewpoints overlooking the peaceful and photogenic Tuscan countryside. Montalcino, San Quirico, Montepulciano, Volterra, Pitigliano… are just a few of the charming, picturesque spots where you can take a portrait of your love. Montemerano, very close to the Saturnia hot springs, has a triple wall that’s ideal for loved-up selfies. San Gimignano, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserves 14 of the 72 towers it once had, making its skyline one of the most memorable in the whole of Italy.
For resting and snuggling up after a day of tourism in Tuscany, there’s a wide range of agrotourism and ‘aziendas’, which combine accommodation with farming activities. Whether it’s old peasant homes, medieval villas or wineries, they’re usually surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, orchards or fields of cereal crops. Some, like Agriturismo Marciano, on the outskirts of Sienna, or Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, in Montalcino, offer guests cookery classes and allow them to take part in the grape harvest.
Of course, wine is another of the delicious features of this region. Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are the best in Italy (the world’s biggest wine producer) and are perfect for raising a toast by candlelight. To go with it, San Miniato white truffles, ‘funghi porcini’ or the area’s typical ‘antipasto’, ‘crostini di fegatini’ (chicken liver pate on toast). Followed by a hearty ‘bistecca a la fiorentina’ or ‘parpadelle’ for main course, and then for dessert, a creamy Italian ice cream. To share, of course.